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Health > Mental Health >Psychology


Psychology means knowledge of the mind - how it works and why people and other animals think, feel and behave the way that they do. Psychologists are therefore concerned that with every aspect of mental life.

People have attempted to study how the mind works for thousands of years, but it is only in the last hundred years that this study has become scientifically organized. The task is complex: at one level the psychologist is dealing with the equivalent of a very sophisticated computer crammed into something half the size of a football; at another level he or she disregards the mechanics involved and concentrates on how a person acts, thinks and feels in an attempt to make sense out of the patterns that emerge.

Because psychologists deal with all aspects of the mind, only a small proportion of their study is concerned with people’s problems. In spite of this however discoveries made by psychologists may help to improve the quality of people’s lives. Those who specialize in how memory works for example may contribute to ways of helping those people whose memory is poor, while those who study how we learn may be able to assist in helping us to learn more easily.


Unlike the psychiatrist, who is a doctor that specializes in mental health, the clinical psychologist need not have a medical qualification. However he will have a degree in psychology and additional qualifications that equip him to work with mental health problems.

Clinical psychologists generally work with a psychiatrist who will deal with medical matters such as drug prescriptions. The psychologist may look after certain aspects of the more serious conditions such as schizophrenia and manic depression as well as less severe states such as mild depression, neurosis and situations that can generally be treated in out patients. Clinical psychology also involves dealing with marital problems and family therapy where a problem may not be caused by any one person but by the relationship that two or more people have with each other.

Developmental psychology is concerned with the way in which people change as they develop from infancy to old age. Such studies are invaluable in helping us understand what to expect at different stages in our lives because we are at a given age rather than because of any particular individual or social influences. For example it teaches us to expect some form of adolescent rebellion instead of being surprised or angry when it occurs. Perhaps unexpectedly, it teaches us that sexual life in late middle age is actually far more active than most people suppose. It also teaches us to accept with calmness and tolerance the slowing down of our mental processes in old age, although this may be more difficult to accept in the smaller and more self contained families of today. Such families provide fewer examples of what is natural in old age than did the living patterns of the past.


Educational psychologists deal with the school process in general, helping gifted, normal and educationally sub normal children, and their parents and teachers, with learning difficulties or problems. This work involves administering psychological tests, as it is sometimes possible to improve the quality of a child’s education by carefully sorting out precise areas of strength and weakness and obtaining specialized help if this is necessary. For example, a child who is falling behind at school may be referred to an educational psychologist because he or she is wrongly believed to be lazy, uncaring, generally backward or lacking in concentration. Specialized tests may reveal however that the child is actually suffering from dyslexia or some other condition that involves a learning problem but does not affect the child’s intelligence in any way.

An educational psychologist is therefore more a specialist who tests and diagnoses conditions rather than one who treats these conditions directly. After therapist of other helper. School phobia, be dealt with in special classes. Sometimes however no referral will be necessary for a word with the teacher or head teacher may be all that is necessary to steer the child towards making the best use of his educational abilities.


Social psychology is a broad field that is concerned with studying how people act in relationships with others: how and why they form particular friendships and enmities, what the difference races, cultures and classes think, the effect of changing sexual customs, violence and the media on the way society reacts, and even the psychology of politics. All of these come under the social psychologist’s scrutiny. Although it is a comparatively young branch of psychology, it is a vital part of the science for it is the relationships we form with others, our society and even with other nations, that will determine if and how our species may in fact survive into the future.


Physiological psychology is the most difficult yet in some ways the most fascinating aspect of psychology. It is also the most specialized, for it is concerned with determining what parts of the brain are most involved with our various thinking processes. For example, physiological psychologists have discovered that certain quite small areas of the brain look after the activity of specific parts of the body, that our sense of hunger and thirst, anger reaction and even consciousness is controlled and monitored by equally small brain areas but the memory is not located in any one particular area (although it is possible that individual memories may well be stored in very small and very definite assemblies of cells).

This field of psychology seeks to find how a series of electrically charged brain cells can become the memory of a melody, the emotion of love or the programme for allowing us to walk without having to think how to do it.


Although psychologists are quite often employed in industry, their work is usually done ‘behind the scenes’ when they may be called in to advise on specific projects or aims. The training of both management and other personnel can be made far more efficient by paying particular attention to such matters as people’s needs, motivations and reactions or conflicts.

Of equal importance here is a clear understanding of the way in which people relate to each other under different circumstances, and their tensions and irritations, trusts and mistrusts. We are only just at the beginning of training people to get on with one another, although the work is more evident in the field of salesmanship than in management and union interactions.

Industrial psychology also plays a part in the design of many things we use at work. For example the layout of an aircraft instrument display panel owes much to the study of how people notice objects at the edge of their field of vision, and to the effect of looking at a complex array of only slowly changing signals for long periods.

The layout of various rooms in social centres such as hospitals are also increasingly influenced by psychological considerations: the avoidance where possible of large rooms with high ceilings, the use of matt (rather than gloss) painted surfaces in varied colours, the use of pictures, photographs and ornaments, availability of private areas, and generally the opportunity for patients to express their individuality. Some or all of these factors may help to speed up the recovery of a patient who is receiving treatment in hospital.

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